Message from the HOD
Welcome to the web page of the philosophy department at the University of Pretoria. The purpose of this message is to give the visitor a brief overview of the nature and justification of our curriculum; of how and why we practice philosophy the way we do. This practice is premised on three tenets.
The first is political pluralism. As practicing philosophers we do not always agree on the fundamentals: What is philosophy? Considering the many philosophical traditions in the world is a unitary conception of philosophy desirable or even possible? Are these traditions not perhaps so different that ‘philosophy’ denotes no more than a vague family resemblance of which the precise content will always be a function of the tradition that seeks to define it? In other words, is there such a thing as ‘philosophy’ or are there only ethnophilosophies? The fact that we hold different views on these questions is not a problem but, on the contrary, evidence of the fact that the practice of philosophy is always political and our ‘lack of agreement’ a sign of intellectual and political pluralism. As a result we also do not always agree on what ‘decoloniality’ means. What we do agree on is the need for a ‘decoloniality engaged’ practice of philosophy.
The second tenet is epistemological diversity. Students arrive at university and the study of any particular discipline with very different experiences of the world depending on their cultural and educational background. They have the reasonable expectation that what they study will assist them in articulating, exploring and theorizing those experiences in order to make sense of their world - which is why the reduction of the taught canon to the experiences of a single abstract worldview or identity is both epistemically unjust and pedagogically indefensible. Our response to the demands of decoloniality is integrative. We do not, for instance, offer separate courses on ‘African Philosophy’. Instead, we seek to integrate as much epistemological diversity as our capacity permits into courses organized around the principles of ‘thematic unity’ (both historical and contemporary).
The third and last tenet is epistemic justice. Here, ‘justice’ refers not only to the liberation and articulation of historically marginalized philosophies of being and belonging but also the sustained engagement with the tapestry of contemporary complexities we all know as ‘life in the postcolony’. Only a philosophy practice that recognizes the dual demands for historical recognition and contemporary relevance can claim to be epistemically just and pedagogically sound.
Plausible as these three tenets may be they cannot assume to be self-evident but require justification. In the call for a decolonized curriculum the notion of ‘decolonisation’ has the status of higher end or telos that needs to be understood in the history of the university as modern institution. Additionally, the idea that epistemic justice is a function of our response to the complexities of the postcolonial condition is premised on appreciating the intersectionality of the postcolonial student-subject which, in turn, generates a plurality of conceptions of what epistemic justice may mean. I engage both these questions here
Finally, from 2018 onwards we are expanding our existing decoloniality engaged curriculum in a way that will be more explicitly premised on these three tenets and their legitimation. A concise overview of the under-graduate curriculum - including short course descriptions - can be found here